Once upon a time Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie made movies that zipped along at a million miles an hour punctuated by jump cuts, fractured timelines and casual brutality. In their wake other filmmakers tried to imitate this style yet many only drew attention to the mechanics of film making rather than immerse us in a story. Pixie borrows liberally from this well yet is not without charm and thankfully is less frenetic than many. It also has- courtesy of director Barnaby Thompson and cinematographer John de Borman -some awesome natural landscape shots of Ireland in all its beauty while a good cast work hard to make matters resonate more than they do on the page.
At an indeterminate time when there is Google but nobody mentions social media Pixie Hardy is the step daughter of gangster Dermot O’Brien (Colm Meaney) whose uneasy truce with a cartel run by Alex Baldwin’s crooked priest Father McGrath boil over into a full rumble over a murder and a missing bag of drugs with a street value of over a million euros. There is a lot of potential especially the idea of a priest run drugs cartel but Pixie seems unsure how to pitch. It is packed with incidents of casual violence yet they are delivered with a tone so light that nobody seems especially concerned and despite a trail of bodies the police are nowhere to be seen! It starts really well with some unexpected turns and a refreshingly unfurled story but the longer it goes on the less convincing matters become.
The lead characters- Pixie and two friends Frank and Harland react with the same detachment to events when they ought to be getting increasingly unnerved. So after a while the viewer will become detached as if we never get past the idea we’re watching people play acting and nobody is really at risk. Olivia Clarke is great in the title role avoiding going over the top and adding her own charisma to the only fully formed character in the story. By runs teasing, amusing and clever Pixie is afforded a breadth that the rest of the characters lack while her ability to stay ahead of everyone else is the script’s strongest aspect.
As written Frank and Harland are a bit too similar leaving actors Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack to do their utmost to emphasise their differences. Yet the script serves them frugally to the point that by the ending they seem unchanged by what they’ve been through except for one line from Frank about going to university. Other actors have fun with smaller roles- Dylan Moran is amusing as a crazy dealer and Ned Dennehy has a memorably riotous cameo as a hitman. Alec Baldwin lavishes his thickest Oirish accent as gun toting Father McGrath though like everyone else remains a sketch rather than a portrait.
The film does look fantastic though, the direction and cinematography using natural light, shadows and grainy colours to present an appealing vision. The incidental music channelling new life into old Western film music is a great addition while there’s also a well staged slow motion climax. Some little moments amuse- I loved the scene where Meaney’s O’Brien is cooking along to Nigella Lawson and the early confrontation with the priests works well.
It feels as if there is a much better film trying to get out but the script won’t allow it to do so preferring to leave its cast relying on instinctual performances. For us to identify or sympathise with anyone there needs to be more nuanced, vulnerable characters. In the end it’s not funny enough to be a full on comedy yet not dramatic enough to be taken too seriously. Pixie is never dull, looks great and does have some amusing scenes and game performances. I did enjoy it but I wanted to love it.